Obituary: Cameron Mitchell
Saturday 09 July 1994
IN How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) it is Lauren Bacall who instigates the plan which gives the film its title. Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable are her willing listeners but, this being a movie, they all settle for true love - Bacall in the form of Cameron Mitchell, one of several reliable leading men under contract to 20th Century Fox in the 1950s.
After serving in the Second World War as a bombardier, Mitchell donned uniform again for brief appearances in What Next, Corporal Hargrave? and They Were Expendable (both 1945), at MGM. His roles hardly got much bigger in three years at Metro, though he had key parts in two late vehicles for Clark Gable, Homecoming (1948), as the home-town boy whose death shocks Gable into joining the army, and Command Decision (1949), as a bombardier.
He was given the lead, as a prizefighter, in Leather Gloves (1949), and his career was given a lift when Elia Kazan chose him to play Happy, the younger son, in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman on Broadway (1949) - if not much of one, since Mitchell returned to movies in Smuggler's Gold (1951), another Columbia B movie, followed by Return to Mars.
When Stanley Kramer produced Death of a Salesman for the screen (1951), with Frederic March as Willy Loman, he chose Mitchell and Mildred Dunnock from the New York cast and Kevin McCarthy from the London production. Those are three good reasons for seeing the film, directed by Laszlo Benedick, but Miller disliked it so much that he has refused showings since the rights reverted to him.
However, it brought Mitchell a contract with Fox and leading roles, which he played amiably rather than with sensitivity, as in Kazan's anti-Communist circus thriller with Frederic March, Man on a Tightrope (1953), in which he was the mysterious boyfriend of March's daughter, Terry Moore. He was a somewhat wayward choice for Joseph Bonaparte in Desiree (1954), with Brando as Napoleon, but was on fine form on loan to MGM for Love Me or Leave Me (1955), as the pianist only too willing to pick up the singer Ruth Etting after she has been knocked down for the nth time by her husband, 'The Gimp' - roles also played for all they were worth by Doris Day and James Cagney.
He was Jigger in Carousel (1956) and one of several unhappy suburbanites in Martin Ritt's No Down Payment (1957): married to the slatternly Joanne Woodward, he has become manager of a garage and aims to become Chief of Police. But one night he gets drunk and rapes the new wife in the neighbourhood since, you understand, she has the 'class' to which he aspires. Six young Fox players acquitted themselves well in this movie, but the contract era was coming to an end. Mitchell went to Universal to play Glynis Johns's husband, head of a pioneering Wisconsin family in All Mine to Give (1959), which became The Day They Gave Babies Away in Britain.
Pausing in Germany for Raubfischer in Hellas (1959), with Maria Schell, and then in Britain for The Unstoppable Man (1960) - playing a businessman whose son has been kidnapped, one of his strongest performances - Mitchell went to Italy, where large sums were being paid to fading Hollywood names. He starred in The Last of the Vikings (1961), playing King Harald Hardrada, and two follow-ups, Erik the Conqueror and I Normanni, as well as doing stints as Julius Caesar (Giulio Cesare Il Conquistatore) and Cesare Borgia (Il Duca Nero) in the same year. Further offers - spaghetti westerns and German thrillers - proved less rewarding, but he returned to a prime role in Hollywood, the sheriff in Ritt's excellent western Hombre (1967), which starred Paul Newman and Frederic March.
He made his name in television as the tough, hard-drinking Buck Cannon in the highly regarded western series High Chaparral, which ran from 1967 to 1971.
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